My Favorite Sommelier
This is Michael’s second selfie. In it you will see Michael Benson, my favorite sommelier Fabio Poli, me and an impressive patch of ceiling. I first met Fabio in 1990 (or perhaps a year or two earlier) when I came from London to Verona with a group of journalists to attend Vinitaly, the world’s largest annual wine trade fair. At a grand dinner at the Vittorio Emanuele restaurant in Piazza Bra we 50-some journalists were served a decent sparkling wine as an aperitif then we were seated for dinner. The waiters came around and plunked 5 bottles of indifferent wine on each table. These were wines of the producers who belonged to organizations that were footing the bill for the meal. One sniff of these wines and I realized that I did NOT want to put any of them in my mouth. I caught a sommelier’s eye, explained my dilemma and asked him to please refill my glass with the sparkling wine. He scanned the main table filled with policticos and producers and I could see him weighing his decision because it was decidedly against the rules to give us journalists the aperitif wine when we were supposed to be forced to drink the wines on the table. He made his decision and for the rest of the meal my glass was discreetly filled with sparkling wine. The sommelier was Fabio Poli. When I moved to Verona in 1991 I met Fabio at many big tastings and dinners. He was knowledgeable, and his assessments of the wines were always spot-on. I trusted and still trust his advice and opinions. So, after 28 (maybe 30) years, he is still my te sommelier.
September 30 Bardolino and Beaujolais
Sub-zones (La Rocca, Montebaldo and Sommacampagna) have been created in the Bardolino wine production zone in an effort to establish the distinctive qualities of these specific areas.
WINE LESSON: The Bardolino zone lies on the hillsides just to the east of Lake Garda and shares it’s name with the small lake-side town of Bardolino. The wine is usually fresh, light and dry. The rosé version is called Chiaretto.
One of the purposes of today’s event is to show that Bardolino’s have a capacity to age well. Of the older vintages we were served, three stood out for me: 2012 Bardolino for Il Pignetto (a lovely nose, still firm fruit, but with a slight hint of rust on the palate that for me indicates that the wine is just starting to decline; 2002 Bardolino Superiore Pradica from Corte Gardoni (supple, elegant): and 1959 Bertani (still attractive vibrations of fruit, smooth on the palate).
Along with Bardolino producers, Beaujolais producers (from Fleurie, Moulin a Vent and Morgon) are present at the tasting. We go to dinner with them and the organizer of the event Anglelo Peretti, to Saporè Downtown, one of the best pizzerias I have ever eaten at. (Best crust! Top quality toppings, pity that the beer was flavored – something citrusy in one and the other boasted on the label about plums – and clearly intended for people who don’t like beer.) The music playing in the restaurant took me right back to the summer I read the news on a Black Music Radio Station (I was 18 at the time). We munched through dinner to a soundtrack of Aretha Franklin, Mary Wells (My Guy), the Stylistics, the Supremes. If only there had been some Tammy Tyrell and Marvin Gaye it would have been perfect. A jolly evening was had by all.
September 29 The Masi Foundation Prize Giving
This is one of my favorite annual events, particularly when the recipients of the awards are scientists or musicians. Why these two professions? Because they usually say things that provoke though and have a keen sense of humor. Among this year’s winners were Egyptologist and director of the Museo Egizio in Turin, Christian Greco; and jolly Gerard Basset, a top sommelier and Master of Wine.
September 21 Il Giardino delle Esperidi
Susan H. picks us up and we head out to Bardolino to Il Giardino delle Esperidi to see our pal Suzy, one of the three owners of Il Giardino. The first thing she said when we arrived was: “I’m going to be a great grandmother!” She is also a a top-notch winetaster.
“The wines on my list are not like those you’ll find at other places – I only list wines I like,” she says. Suzi travels and tastes, finding stunning wines from small producers. (Only 600 bottles were produced of the luscious Falanghina Aganum Vigna di Pino we tasted with dinner.)
We started with a glass of Saint Charmant Blanc de Blancs, and continue to follow Suzy’s suggestions; the Falanghina, Cattarato Shira Castelluccimiano, Bardolino Superiore from Silvio Piona, Taurasi from Perillo, ending with a Champagne Demi sec from Fallet-Prevostat.
In short: We had a wonderful time: the food was imaginative and delicious, and the wines surprising and satisfying.
Anyone who is coming to Vinitaly in 2019 might want to arrive a day or two early and book a table at Il Giardino delle Esperidi in Bardolino. You will find wines that are selected not on mark-up and easy sells (popular names), rather you will have the pleasure of tastings something new and different.
September 7 The Venice Film Festival, Ugo’s Golden Eel and our Wedding Anniversary
We saw four films. One was exceptionally moving (Sony, an Indian film by a first time director), one was good (an Iranian film called As I lay Dying), one was a nice history lesson about the French revolution (Un Peuple et son Roi) and one was irritating (Zan the English title was Killing). Why was this last film irritating? I am glad you asked. In all the action sequences with the samuris the director wielded a jerky hand-held camera. I had to look away because the movement made me physically ill. Also, every time music was used, the volume was pumped up to the point that the seats we were sitting on vibrated. It could not end quickly enough for me.
But now to the really exceptional film. Sony (the name of one of the protagonists) was about two women police officers in India and, in a larger way, it was about the casual and constant sexism woman encounter and how they deal with it. When the film ended I had tears in my eyes. No, it was not sentimental; the tears were because it touched a chord in me (and evidently in many other women). When I tried to talk about it immediately after the showing I choked up. I was too full of usually suppressed emotion. The director was there with the producer (a woman) and the two main actresses. The audience applauded at the end of the showing and the women in the audience lined up to offer congratulation,
Each year Ugo organizes an alternative (to the official Venice Film Festival) award fest called the Bisato Oro (the Golden Eel as opposed to the Golden Lion). One of this year’s big winners was Australian Director Jennifer Kent. Her film Nightingale won the Special Jury’s Prize at the official Venice Film Festival and she also graciously showed up at Ugo’s do to accept the Golden Eel for Best Film. Here is a link to interviews with Jennifer Kent and members of the cast of the film.
September 8 Vicentini (Agostino)
We arrive at the home of Terresa Bacco and Agostino Vicentini to taste with a friend from Peru who is looking for wines to import. As always, the wines were good and the prices were competitive. We also played with Lily, whose age is unknown but she has been with the Vicentinis for around 15 years. She is a sweet natured little doggie and is still full of pep.
September 1 Recognition
I was recognized at the supermarket this morning. I was wearing my typical Summer outfit of flip-flops, baggy trousers, loose shirt and – of course – my signature Paddington Bear hat.
I was with my husband and I noticed a man glancing at me nervously. We all got into the elevator and he took a deep breath and asked: “Are you writing any new books?” I figured he really didn’t care about the chapter on matching wine and food I just finished for a cookbook to be published in Singapore. I said: “No I am reading more books than I am writing at the moment.” I had no idea who he was, so I tried to find out by asking him what he was up to. His answer gave me no clue.
TIP: If you see someone you do not know personally but have seen in some public context and you wish to engage them in conversation please give them some hint as to who you are. Example: “Hello. I’m Edmund Cane, we met at the tasting in Faenza last year.”